The Metropolitan Police are considering sending armed patrols of officers onto the streets of London, in order to combat the surging crime epidemic in the capital.
Speaking to the London Assembly, Cressida Dick, the Met Police Commissioner, said that visibly armed officers would, in “extreme circumstances”, be on foot patrol in areas where intelligence suggested that potential violence could occur. This would be mainly to tackle gang crime, as 40% of all killings in London are gang related, she explained. Knife crime has also hit record levels in the capital and murder rates are the highest they have been in a decade.
In an email, the Met Police explained that they would carefully assess the deployment of armed patrols:
If we did initiate it, it would be based on an informed and reliable intelligence picture of where gang activity is likely, and would be done in full consultation with the local policing borough, to include full community impact assessments. It would also be a temporary measure for short periods of time.
Apart from Northern Ireland during the Troubles, armed police have not been seen on British streets, usually being restricted to areas such as Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. It is unsurprising therefore, that there has been backlash from elected officials.
A spokesman for Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London who has overseen the record crime levels, signalled Khan’s opposition to patrols becoming mainstream:
Keeping Londoners safe is the mayor’s No 1 priority and the Met are constantly looking to update how they tackle violent crime. However, the mayor is crystal clear that armed officers on London’s streets must be the exception and cannot become the norm. He would expect full consultation on any decisions of this nature.
Labour peer Lord Harris argued that armed patrols would only be seen as “provocative”, and that they would “will inspire fear rather than reassurance… hinder community confidence, and do little in itself to reduce the number of violent incidents.”
In a statement on Thursday night, Assistant Commissioner Sir Stephen House tried to soften the news:
We are not considering routine deployments of armed officers in our communities. As part of our response to the increase in violent crime in London we are examining how our armed officers can provide extra support and augment other units, either in response to a serious assault, or to be deployed to areas where we have intelligence that serious violence is imminent. Any deployments would be for a limited time only and done in consultation with local policing commanders, and after a community impact assessment had been carried out.